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CES Reply: Follow the Money

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

2.Church Finances:

Zero transparency to members of the Church. Why is the one and only true Church keeping its books in the dark? Why would God’s one true Church choose to “keep them in darkness” over such a stewardship?

Why do you provide a really weird link to a scripture in Ether that talks about oaths used to keep murders secret? Are you equating the Church’s unwillingness to release financial statements with deliberately killing people?

History has shown time and time again that corporate secret wealth is breeding ground for corruption.

No, I don’t think it has. Only publicly traded companies are required to make their financial records public, and the vast majority of businesses across the world are privately held and keep their finances to themselves. Almost all of these private businesses are small businesses, while the publicly traded corporations are huge corporations, which tend to be more corrupt than the mom-and-pop store down the street. Yet it’s the family business with private financials who, by your definition, are trafficking in “corporate secret wealth.”

The Church used to be transparent with its finances but stopped in 1959.

I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know, as the Wikipedia article to which you link states, that the Church “does disclose its financials in the United Kingdom and Canada where it is required to do so by law.”

Estimated $1.5 billion megamall City Creek Center:

Which was funded by a for-profit entity owned by the church and not paid for by tithes or offerings of church members.

Total Church humanitarian aid from 1985-2011:  $1.4 billion

Your link appears to be broken, so I don’t know where you arrive at that figure, especially since your broken link was supposed to take me to a welfare services fact sheet put out by the Church. If the Church website is admitting that figure, then how can you say it’s not being transparent on this subject?

So, with a little Googling effort of my own, I found an interesting post over at TimesandSeasons.org that shows where this number came from, and why it’s bogus.

Attributing the figure to an article from someone named Cragun, T&S writes:

Where does Cragun get this information? He draws from a single source: This fact sheet, published by the church. It’s a single-page document, well worth a look. In fact, you should go take a look at it right now. In particular, watch the nomenclature.

The damning language is found in these lines:

Humanitarian assistance rendered (1985–2009)

Cash donations $327.6 million

Value of material assistance $884.6 million

That shows that the church gave about $1 billion in total humanitarian aid over 25 years.

Or does it?

Look at that sheet again. It highlights numbers of food storehouses, food production for the needy, employment training, church-run thrift stores, and so on. The sheet states _also_ discusses global work worldwide on disaster relief (such as responses to tsunami or earthquake victims). It uses different nomenclature for each type of donation. That is donations to worldwide emergency response are classified under the humanitarian label. But the extensive ongoing infrastructure to feed the needy is classified under the church welfare label. I contacted the church today and was able to verify that this is correct…

Given this crucial misunderstanding of the fact sheet, Cragun’s factual claim is incorrect and in fact very misleading on an important point… observers can certainly still make critiques of church financial practices. Such critiques, however, should be based on accurate statements of fact. [Emphasis in original.]

Something is fundamentally wrong with “the one true Church” spending more on an estimated $1.5 billion dollar high-end megamall than it has in 26 years of humanitarian aid.

Given the reality that your figure is, in reality, only a small portion of the Church’s overall welfare efforts, this is criticism based on a substantial error on your part.

For an organization that claims to be Christ’s only true Church, this expenditure is a moral failure on so many different levels.  For a Church that asks its members to sacrifice greatly for Temple building, such as the case of Argentinians giving the Church gold from their dental work for the São Paulo Brazil Temple, this mall business is absolutely shameful.

Why? Members weren’t asked to pay a dime for the mall, and none of their donations were used to fund it. As a for-profit business, the mall generates revenue, which means that the mall will ultimately earn its money back.

Of all the things that Christ would tell the prophet, the prophet buys a mall and says “Let’s go shopping!”?  Of all the sum total of human suffering and poverty on this planet, the inspiration the Brethren feel for His Church is to get into the shopping mall business?|

The mall wasn’t built with the intent to get the Saints to “go shopping.” My understanding with regard to the purpose of City Creek was to stave off the urban blight that was gripping downtown Salt Lake City, which would ultimately have placed Temple Square and the surrounding buildings that constitute the headquarters of the Church into the middle of a dangerous slum. City Creek has accomplished that goal by revitalizing downtown and making it safe for families. The fact that this was done without taxpayer or tithepayer dollars makes it a boon to the community that cost church members nothing at all.

Hinckley made the following dishonest statement in a 2002 interview to a German journalist:

Reporter:  In my country, the…we say the people’s Churches, the Protestants, the Catholics, they publish all their budgets, to all the public.

Hinckley:  Yeah. Yeah.

Reporter:   Why is it impossible for your Church?

Hinckley:   Well, we simply think that the…that information belongs to those who made the contribution, and not to the world.  That’s the only thing. Yes.

I don’t see this as dishonest, but I do think President Hinckley and the reporter are talking past each other here. President Hinckley’s talking about the confidentiality of individual contributions, which should rightly remain private, although that doesn’t seem to be what the reporter asked. It may be that President Hinckley misheard the question. Your link plays a very short snippet of this interview, and a broader context might be helpful.

Where can I see the Church’s books?   I’ve paid tithing.   Where can I go to see what the Church’s finances are? Where can current tithing paying members go to see the books?   The answer: we can’t.   Even if you’ve made the contributions as Hinckley stated above??

When I was a counselor in the bishopric, I was actually uncomfortable with how much I knew about the finances of ward members, based on my access to ward tithing and fast offering records. Much of that information is available to counselors and clerks, and it is remarkable to me how responsibly they handle that information. That information isn’t the finances of the entire Church, of course, but my personal experience makes me more grateful for confidentiality than curious about the Church’s books.

Unless you’re an authorized General Authority  or  senior  Church  employee  in  the  accounting  department with a Non-Disclosure Agreement?   You’re out of luck. Hinckley knew this and for whatever reason made the dishonest statement.

Again, I don’t see how the statement is dishonest, although I do see that it seems to be an answer to a question that wasn’t asked. More context would be helpful.

Tithing: I find the following quote in the December 2012 Ensign very disturbing:

“If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”

Ripped out of context, it is disturbing. In the article this advice is given to someone who receives generous financial assistance from the Church in order to get back on their feet, assistance in a dollar amount in excess of the money they paid in tithing.

“Well, God tested Abraham by asking him to kill his son and besides, the Lord will take care of them through the Bishop’s storehouse.”

You put these words in quotes for some reason. Did a real person actually say this, or is this just another strawman argument?

Yes, the same god who tested Abraham is also the same crazy god who killed innocent babies and endorsed genocide, slavery, and rape.

Quite the non sequitur there. The weirdness of many Old Testament accounts does not deny anyone access to the bishop’s storehouse.

Besides, whatever happened to self-sufficiency? Begging the Bishop for food when you had the money for food but because you followed the above Ensign advice and gave your food money to the Church you’re now dependent on the Church for food money.

Just a few paragraphs ago, you were upset that the Church doesn’t offer enough humanitarian aid, and now you’re complaining that they offer too much aid and make people dependent. Which is it?

3.Names of the Church:

After deciding “Church of Jesus Christ” on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith made the decision on May 3, 1834 to change the name of the Church to “The Church of the Latter Day Saints”. Why did Joseph take the name of “Jesus Christ” out of the very name of His restored Church? The one and only true Church on the face of the earth in which Christ is the Head?

Because there was already a church with the legal right to use the name “Church of Christ” that precluded Joseph from doing the same. (You say that they called themselves the “Church of Jesus Christ,” but from what I can tell, the name “Jesus” was absent from the original moniker.) So, absent any revelation, Joseph chose a name that would distinguish themselves from the other Church. The first time a name was given by revelation was in 1838, and that name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” is the same name the Church has consistently used from that day to this.

Four years later on April 26, 1838, the Church name was changed to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” and has remained ever since (except the hyphen was added about a century later to be grammatically correct).

Indeed. As I stated at the outset, I’m not concerned about fallible grammar.

Why would Christ instruct Joseph to name it one thing in 1830 and then change it in 1834 and then change it again in 1838?

He wouldn’t, and he didn’t.  There’s no evidence that Christ instructed Joseph to give the Church any specific name prior to the 1838 revelation.

Is it reasonable to assume that God would periodically change the name of his Church?

This question only makes sense if you actually have evidence that God periodically changed the name of his Church, which you don’t. The first time we have record of God naming His Church is in 1838, and there have been no changes to the name since the Lord Himself settled the question.

Why would the name of Christ be dropped from His one and only true Church for 4 whole years?

Because another church was using the name “Church of Christ,” which prevented Joseph from using it.

What does this say about a Church that claims to be restored and guided by modern revelation?

It says that we do our best in the absence of direct guidance from heaven, but we don’t mess with the Lord after he provides a revelation with a definitive answer.

If the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t even get the name right for eight years then what else did he get wrong?

Since he was a fallible human being with agency like the rest of us, probably a lot. But this isn’t a case of him getting anything wrong – since there was no revelation on the subject for eight years, he was free to use his best judgment during that same time frame. He would only be “wrong” if he had chosen a different name after the Lord settled the question via revelation in 1838. You’ll notice the revelation naming the Church doesn’t scold Joseph for getting anything wrong.

Next: Not Very Useful

CES Reply: No clear insights into the origins of this practice
My Father's Final Sermon

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  1. As I’ve read through your response, I can’t help but think about your father’s book. Your dad talks a lot about motive. Well, what is Jeremy Runnells’ motive? What could his motive be to write such an exhausting “letter”? (yes I said exhausting on purpose. I did not mean exhaustive). And what kind of name is Runnell anyway? It’s a bit Dodgy, it is. But seriously, its motive can only be to tear down and destroy the faith of active LDS whom he believes have been duped. He wasn’t searching for answers. He says he’s spent “over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.” Well, reading mountains of anti-Mormon material is neither studying nor is it Church history. Funny how I did not hear him say that he spent a year fasting, praying, pondering, and reading the Book of Mormon. Maybe he should have just asked for a sign like good old Korihor. By the way, can we stop calling it a “letter”? I’ve received a lot of letters, but nothing like this. He seems confused on what letters actually are. You keep using that word, but I don’t think you know what it means! He didn’t even end with “P.S.” and an arrow to the back asking how Mildred’s arthritis is doing, or if Mabel had been to the doctor to check on her bunions, or if Erma ever found that good casserole recipe he wanted, or if Bessie had finished her cross stitch? Now that would have been a dandy letter.

    So after this intense obsession and studying, he decided to send off a letter. (probably not even certified mail. No Mr. Runnell does not strike me as the type to pay the extra for certified mail.) Now if this was all he did, it could have been taken chalked up as sincere question I suppose. But rather than just sending off a letter with questions while his salvation hangs in the balance, he instead goes off and publishes it. Now that is different than just having questions. Again what is the motive? For what purpose do you publish it? Were you afraid it was lost in the mail? A lazy mail delivery person left it in the back of the truck? It fell in the cracks of the church office building mailroom? (Should have done that certified mail thing we spoke of earlier. Tsk Tsk Runnell) Well no, again it’s not to sincerely seek an answer. No, it’s to seek praise of the world, to destroy faith, and to mock other believers with his superior intellect. Now there’s the motive! He might even get a window view in the great and spacious building. I hear there are plenty of rooms with a view.

    My favorite part of your response was, ““And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.” Again, that’s on the first page. The first frickin’ page”. ha ha. Well done Stallion Cornell.